Libraries, shelf life and service design

The Edge 2011 conference was organised by the City of Edinburgh Council to show how virtual libraries are revolutionising local authority service delivery. The two-day conference at the Caledonian Hotel on the 3rd and 4th of March brought together top local government figures from the UK and beyond to explore how libraries can be key to delivering council services, e-government, learning and digital inclusion. You can see all my snaps from the event here. Brian Gambles, the Assistant Director of Culture for Birmingham City Council, described future libraries as empowerment centres and thinking platforms. Although I was glad when he brought the focus right back to basics and asked "what problem are we trying to solve?". It seems the library sector often gets caught up in the new and shiny - a new kiosk, a new building, a new website - instead of asking the simple questions first: "if timeliness is so important why are libraries open when it suits staff?"

I spend alot of time talking, thinking and writing about 'service' so I was curious to see the reaction when Brian prompted the crowd to think about the difference between service and experience. The answer is very important - they are two very different things. As Adam responded from the virtual world - "the same as the difference between cooking and taste"

When you really stop and think about libraries - what they were, compared to what they are now, it really makes you think about how people engage with information and ideas. I wasn't surprised to hear speakers ponder over why communities that have good local services have a low opinion of their council. It's the classic case of hitting the target but missing the point. A phrase that I also think could be applied to the image below.

Culture change tips from the library of Hampshire

Cultural attitudes of staff are crucial for libraries right now because they are defining new value for their industry. Libraries are often the glue that h0lds communities together, that's the kind of statement that should be on the list above! The image above shows culture change from a library perspective - Snook's perspective is very different. Our idea of culture change is focused on creating organisations that have the ability to cope with and do innovation and as a result produce new / improved services that deliver value. We believe the way to do this is embedding design-led activity in the DNA of organisations.

Kevin Winkler from New York Public Library talked about decreasing back stage activity and decreasing the number of touch points - this is all language that service designers are familiar with although I don't agree that getting rid of all the touchpoints is the answer. Asking 'why' about each touchpoint would be a better place to start.

The audience

Nicky Parker from Manchester City Council talked very strongly about 'automation' and the fact that 'people want stuff done for them'. I couldn't disagree more. I felt this talk in particular was focused on 'sexy pictures' and 'visioning' as opposed to real conversations about what the public want.

Words are very important in the library sector. Infact, over the course of the two days the speakers compiled a list of 'dirty words'

  • cuts
  • big society
  • money
  • frontline ( it was decided front of house was a better phrase to use )
  • volunteer ( it de-values people and should be referred to as a 'gift of time' )
  • customer
  • service

I don't think this list is very valuable. The value is in speaking a human, simple language that everyone can relate to. Hat tip to Alan Barr from The Big Partnership for telling the librarians their websites are dull and social media is about being social. The truth is that staff make or break any service and these are exciting yet scary times for library staff. What if they say or do something wrong? It does seem safer to stay behind the counter but the library landscape is changing. Dave Coplin, Director of Search at Microsoft ( and the chap behind The Envisioners ) delivered this point brilliantly to wrap up the two days. He encouraged staff to make friends with the IT guys and persistently tell them you need their help to change culture! Dave reminded the audience we are all on a journey and have to be on it together. The reason that's so important is because we need to provide momentum and inspiration for the libraries all over the country bursting with ideas and unable to bring them to life because of bureaucracy. Afterall, that's how we get others to understand our ideas - it's about mindset

Libraries are at an interesting cross roads and we need to make it clear that this is not about technology or tools it's about culture. Think about how how people perceive change and how they perceive the service you deliver! It's time to let go and really believe in your organisation and your service

You can watch a video of my talk here and read a write up by the team at Edge 'The user journey towards better services"

[vimeo 20732633]

If you would like to know more, Joanna Ptolomey puts it far better than I ever could in both her articles  Service Design on the edge and I've quite literally been to the edge and back.

Brilliant to finally meet @chibbie and @dcoplin and hang out with my buddies @mikemclean and @allanbarr. I'll end this post with some fantastic snippets of insight from Arne : if libraries are not willing to become obsolete than that is exactly what'll happen to them. Throw out the library completely, start with value and how to co-create it, and then you're designing the new library...get people engaged in your service and it will grow naturally.

To any libraries reading this - be more open as a profession and let the public share ideas with you - the public want to make their own decisions. I promise.

using your mobile to do something good

Last week I went to the first event held by Orange to mark the launch of their forthcoming initiative to promote mobile micro volunteering. I rocked up with the lovely Cassie Robinson knowing nothing about the idea or who was going to be there. The  50 people crowd wore stickers - developers sporting a blue sticker, people from orange an orange sticker and social entrepreneurs a green sticker. The aim of the evening was simply to 'meet in each other in person' - simple and true.

The force behind this new initiative is the merging of Orange and T mobile ; Everything Everywhere . They have more customers than the population of Canada! They certainly have the potential to harness this power to do something good!

Jamie T put together a good write up here and I was interviewed by the brill Brian Condon - you can listen on audioboo.

This new venture is encouraging people to make minutes matter, to do something from your phone that will take 5 minutes. It clearly presents new opportunities to work differently and it may highlight how much generosity there is in the world.

I suppose I am most interested in the balance of actions that can be done online and what can be done offline. Nevertheless, I am always interested in things that aim to liberate and inspire people so I will be watching closely.

p.s I was a big fan of the speakers wearing a red flower in their shirt pocket. Nice touch.


Last weekend I went to my first unconference ; ScotGov Camp in Edinburgh. I had pretty high expectations as I always follow the London camps. There was real mix of people there - folks from Huddle, various Government orgs, Greener Leith, Openly Local, Learning Pool, We Make Sense, Firmstep, South Lanarkshire council, Helpgov, East Ayrshire Council, Flock local, Edinburgh council, Womens Aid, Digital Scotland and the NHS.

As always, hat tip to Dave Briggs for keeping us on our toes and making the room laugh. He kicked the day off with a blank agenda that quickly filled up with topics from around the room.

I stuck a post it up there about Big Society in Scotland and introduced the session by summarising my experience at The Future of Conservative Thinking in London ; an event that ended with "The Big Scottish Question" ...

You can watch the session on the video below ; featuring @kateho, @wemakesenseux ,@greenerleith, @improvementmike, @peterashe, @bretthusbands, @ScotGovCamp, @suchprettyeyes, @flocklocal, @cal444 ...

[vodpod id=ExternalVideo.962164&w=425&h=350&]

Lot's of interesting points of view and thank you to everyone for coming along!  For anyone wanting to know more about this stuff Carolyn recommended The Selfish Society: How We All Forgot to Love One Another and Made Money Instead - it seems to be a good resource for understanding how can we get back to basics.

The conclusion of the conversation was summarized by Peter reinforcing that it's not really optional ;

"If we keep going the way we are going we will have to build a 600 bedded hospital in Scotland every 3 years - starting in 2016"

This is a very difficult time for Scotland but one that is full of opportunity. Although, this optimism did waver at times with much discussion around the barriers we face and how this affects people without the capacity and resources - the end result being this should be about delivering services equally and social justice!

So how do we cause change? Will we even use the phrase the Big Society - probably not? You can read a write up of the session here. We choose to buy into this idea or we choose to ignore  it - regardless things have to change, in a big way and fast...summed up nicely by Brett;

"We can only do what we can do . We can choose to do it and that's it."

I then hung out in the Digital Scot session ran by Michael Fourman who started the conversation by asking the room "How can Scotland keep up with the rest of the UK?" I was surprised to hear that Glasgow has an under 40% uptake of broadband , compared to Aberdeen and Edinburgh having over 70%. Although it is something we think about alot over @Mypolice - we see evidence that many of these communities struggle to put food on their dinner table but have Virgin TV.

But what does "disconnectedness" really mean? How does effect people's lives? I agree that being digital is not an add on - it is communication that is part of an infrastructure. Someone used the analogy of transport to describe Digital Scotland with fibres under the road, lots of people travelling for different reasons in different ways. But is it just enough to give people a computer and give them broadband? What about learning?

"it's not about connectivity - it's about content"

Inspired by Mary from Learning Pool six of started our own little session in the afternoon to talk about how we can get more young people into government.  I now know that the average age of someone who works in a local authority is 47 years old and there is no one in Birmingham council under the age of 25...

The people in the room agreed that the way councils work is removed from the way young people work so it seems alien to them. We wondered if councillors feel responsible for spending tax payers money during their daily lives? the way MP's are being encouraged to do?

@cal444 told us about her trip to her local primary school where she asked some ten-year olds "What does the council do?" and the response really wasn't great, considering they deliver over 800 services. One lad claimed "They pay the rent when we run out of money" ...

It seems to be a recurring conversation in a local authority to ask "Why do I have to do it this way?" and hear "Cos it's the way we have always done it"

So the message is let's do things differently and dont' ask why just do it

Berlin Beckons

The  Service Design Network Conference Agenda was released this week. I went along to their first event in Amsterdam, November 2008, I couldn't afford a ticket on my student budget so I asked my university to buy me a ticket instead of paying me for the teaching I was doing at the time. Like many others I decided not to go to the event in 2009 primarily because its location, but it did spark a huge debate amongst the community about what the next conference should be!

So, here we are in 2010 with the "next conference "only months away! I'm feeling pretty proud of myself because I have been invited to be a keynote speaker on the second day and my partner in crime, Sarah is lecturing on the first day. I am also initiating a design challenge around Making Service Sense. A hat trick for the Snook team !

I can't wait to meet new people and put many faces to twitter names! This opportunity has really got me thinking, I want to make an impact. I re-read the post I wrote about the event in 2008 and the journey I have been on since then has been pretty incredible.

I can't wait to share it with you.